Because the normal pattern of publication for the Loop is to put July and August together August does not generally get a gardening article to itself so this is its moment of glory; or perhaps not, as August isn’t one of the great gardening months.
My favourite garden related book is ‘The Morville Hours’, Katherine Swift’s account of the conception and creation of her historically themed garden at the Dower House near Bridgnorth in Shropshire. While she was developing the garden Katherine Swift also wrote a weekly gardening article in the Times and a collection of these articles has been published as a companion book to ‘The Morville Hours’ called ‘The Morville Year’. In one of these articles, with an August date, she writes “There ought to be a law against August. It’s an endurance test, the month most people like least in their gardens. The roses are over, the foxgloves are standing about wanly waiting to drop their seed; even the grass has stopped growing.” There certainly have been years when I have felt like that about my garden, when everything seems to be losing steam and looking unkempt, but, at the moment, writing towards the end of July, I am hopeful that neither the garden nor I will become exhausted. The flower beds are still looking pretty good and the vegetable garden is bursting with produce. The long period of lock-down and isolation has meant more time in the garden and things that often get neglected have been getting more attention.
I wrote earlier in the year about my trial with a ‘no dig’ regime and it has worked out incredibly successfully. I spread the whole area liberally with garden compost (or, more accurately, my gardener did) and I subsequently turned the compost in gently and spread chicken manure pellets just before sowing or planting out. Some of the cabbages are already enormous and I am getting a generous yield from early potatoes. Even the twisted onions I wrote about earlier have recovered with liberal feeding and are getting a really good size. Pity about the cancellation of the Biddenham Show when I might have had a chance with the onions this year.
Even during this ‘quiet’ month there are jobs to do. Annual bedding and container plants will need dead- heading and, as dahlias get into their stride, keep nipping out the smaller buds at the side or immediately below the main buds on each stem. Don’t forget to water and feed container plants. Even if it rains there is never enough water to satisfy plants in containers. You should also continue to feed camellias and rhododendrons, using rain water, and fertiliser for acid loving plants. This is the best time for cutting hedges of beech, hawthorn and leylandii. Blanket weed in ponds will not stop growing in August and you may find duck weed needs attention. Yellowing water lily leaves should be cut off and removed.
There always seems to be some pruning to do. The fruited canes of summer fruiting raspberries should be cut down to a little above ground level. The green canes which will provide next year’s fruit will be well grown by now. Currant bushes (red, white and black) can have new growth cut back by a third or so. Large shrub roses which don’t have repeat flowers can be cut back for a good shape once flowering has finished. Lavender and rock roses which can get ’leggy’ should be cut back when flowering has finished but keep within green shoots; don’t cut into harder wood.
Once plum trees have fruited, which may not be just yet, do any required pruning because waiting until winter may result in trees getting diseased. Smaller ornamental trees which may want pruning to keep a good shape or to stop them getting too big can be pruned now. Winter pruning is not harmful but may lead to more rapid growth next year.
I hope your vegetables have also done well and you have a good harvest. Sweetcorn will shortly be ready and needs to be picked as soon as it is ripe to enjoy it at its sweetest and most tender; once the tassels turn brown check readiness by pulling back the outer covering and squeezing a kernel. If milky liquid comes out it is ready. The starch content increases rapidly after picking and the advice sometimes given is to put the kettle on for hot water before you go into the garden to pick the corn.
Spend some time just enjoying your garden and, now restrictions are being eased, think about visiting a garden open to the public (appointments generally required).